Yes, this is old news. I’ve written about it before, as have
numerous other progressive scientifically-oriented bloggers. But
now that there is an opinion piece featured prominently in the New York
Times, perhaps the issue is gaining momentum.
By DONALD KENNEDY
Published: April 17, 2010
NOW that Congress has pushed through its complicated legislation to
reform the health insurance system, it could take one more simple step
to protect the health of all Americans. This one wouldn’t raise any
taxes or make any further changes to our health insurance system, so it
could be quickly passed by Congress with an outpouring of bipartisan
support. Or could it? …
This sort of thing is politically unpopular, because the people who
would benefit, do not have an strong lobby unified on the issue.
And the people who would have to adjust their operation, do have such a
lobby. It could cause some short-term difficulties for those who
make a living by raising and selling livestock and poultry. We
need to acknowledge that some of those folk already are
struggling. But the industry would adapt and rebalance. After
all, they do have a product that people want, and the people still are
ready, willing, and able to buy.
The use of antibiotics in farming operations clearly leads to the
development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. This causes problems
when those antibiotic-resistant pathogens get into people. It
also costs a lot of money:
Antibiotic resistance is an expensive problem. A person who
cannot be treated with ordinary antibiotics is at risk of having a
large number of bacterial infections, and of needing to be treated in
the hospital for weeks or even months. The extra costs to the American
health care system are as much as $26 billion a year, according to
estimates by Cook County Hospital in Chicago and the Alliance for the
Prudent Use of Antibiotics, a health policy advocacy group.
The argument would be strengthened if we knew what fraction of that $26
billion was attributable to agricultural use of antibiotics. That
apparently is not known, and it is not obvious to me how it could be
determined. Even so, the figure does suggests that the economic
benefits of of the legislation could offset, at least partially, the
losses in the agricultural sector. Furthermore, I suspect that
this legislation could provide a boost to smaller agricultural
operations. This would be good. Unfortunately, the small
operators don’t have a powerful voice in Washington.